Covid-19 May Be a Blessing for Africa
The technologies that have been developed in response to Covid-19 in Africa include WhatsApp Chatbots in South Africa, self-diagnostic tools in Angola, contact tracing apps in Ghana and mobile health information tools in Nigeria.
“Africa’s future is dependent on technology and innovation, which are crucial for addressing the challenges of low structural transformation and inclusive development on the continent,” Moredreck Chibi, WHO Africa regional advisor for innovation, said in an interview.
“There is a need for investing in innovation as an absolute and fundamental shift in the continent’s traditional business model.”
Chibi said that some rapidly developing health technologies during the Covid-19 pandemic included reconfiguration of district health information system in countries such as Kenya, South Africa and Uganda to offer key functionalities such as accelerated case detection, situation reporting, active surveillance and response for Covid-19.
And in a recent analysis conducted by the WHO Africa regional office, Africa accounted for 120 of the 1 000 new or modified technologies deployed worldwide to respond to Covid-19 including, surveillance, treatment, prevention and control.
According to the analysis, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa were the leading innovators — accounting for 37 percent of the continent’s share — mainly due to existing innovation frameworks in those countries.
The WHO Africa analysis conducted between July and September 2020 examined 1 000 Covid-19 technological innovations electronically from scientific databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar and Scopus using a custom web-mining instruction to search the web for text, image, audio, or videos of the innovations.
Researchers also examined all Covid-19-related technologies published on different organisation websites, social media channels such as Twitter, and on several local and international media channels.
Moses Makayoto, the immediate former deputy director at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute and an award-winning Kenyan research scientist and innovator, said the number of new tech innovations coming out of some African countries was not surprising.
According to Makayoto, a good educational system was one of the reasons behind the African Covid-19 innovation growth, adding that many African educational institutions are doing well in global rankings.
“Kenyan universities and technical colleges, for instance, rank high on the continent and globally. Top notch research and innovation go on in these institutions all the time,” he said.
“The ideas are being turned into reality in the various tech incubation centres across the country,” Makayoto says.
According to Chibi, the origin of Africa’s tech movement can be traced to Kenya, which has been home to several technological innovations between 2007 and 2010, branding Kenya as Africa’s Silicon Valley.
But despite many African countries having policies, strategic frameworks and investments for innovations, not many African countries werecreating and implementing innovations, Chibi said.
Peter Ofware, country director of HealthRight International, Kenya, said that technology played a key role in the health sector, and therefore economies of resource-poor countries.
“It is encouraging therefore to note that the creativity among innovators is inspired even by a crisis like Covid-19 … the biggest heath challenge in a generation,” he said.